Email marketing

Sending From a Web-Hosted Email Address May Bounce Your Email Marketing, Web Inquiries

4-21-2014 8-57-36 AM

If you use an online email marketing service such as MailChimp, iContact or Constant Contact and are sending from a web-hosted email address (such as from Google, Yahoo or Hotmail), you may soon notice a significant increase in bounced emails. This is due to a new Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance or “DMARC” authentication policy these mail receivers have implemented.

Additionally, if your website allows users to “email this to a friend,” those emails may also bounce as well.

An article from Yahoo reads “All DMARC compliant mail receivers are now bouncing emails sent as “@yahoo.com” addresses that aren’t sent through Yahoo servers. Any messages without a proper Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) signature or Sender Policy Framework (SPF) alignment will be rejected.”

What Exactly Does This Mean?

Oftentimes, when spam or phishing emails are sent, they appear to be from one email address, but a closer look at the email header shows it was actually sent from another email address. That means the email address DKIM signatures or SPF alignment don’t match. When they don’t match, this sends out a red flag to the recipient’s mail host that it may not be legitimate and there’s a good chance the email could be marked as spam or bounced, preventing the message from being received.

If an email appears to be from a web-based email address but is not sent through their server, the email will be bounced.

  • If email marketing is sent from a web-based email client (i.e. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo), it may be marked as fraudulent and not be delivered
  • If a website has an “email this to a friend” option, those emails may bounce

How Is This Affected by Online Email Marketing Services?

When an email message is sent through an email marketing service, the service inserts its own authentication in the header. So while the email address may be perfectly legitimate, its DKIM signatures or SPF alignment don’t match up, making the email appear to be spam or fraudulent.

Why Is This Happening?

It’s extremely easy to sign up for a web-hosted email address, so if someone is looking to send spam or phishing emails, they could simply sign up for a new email address and send out fraudulent emails until their account was shut down by the host. They could then just create news accounts to continue sending fraudulent emails.

Since the emails came through the web-hosted email servers, it became pretty easy to block such accounts to prevent them from spamming. So spammers found a way around that by using online email marketing services to continue sending the emails without getting blocked by the email host. The email marketing services would put their own authentication in the header so it didn’t appear the email was coming from the email host, but rather another source.

This is a step by email providers to protect its users and prevent their domains from being used to send spam.

How Can I Get Around This?

  • Don’t use web-based email for marketing. The simplest way to get around this is to not send from a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo email address since these are the kinds of sites blocking these kinds of emails. Instead, the best option would be to use an email address from your company’s own domain (i.e. email@yourcompany.com).
  • Authenticate email with a domain key. Users can add a digital signature that is embedded in the email header so emails can be authenticated.
  • Keep sending consistent. When sending marketing emails, to improve your chances of delivery, be sure to send from the same email and IP addresses.
  • Sign messages with a DKIM to validate your domain name.
  • Create an SPF for your domain to confirm email validity.
  • Publish a DMARC policy to authenticate emails and prevent them from being marked as spam.

 Considerations

While this may be a hassle for those trying to send legitimate email marketing messages, it’s ultimately a good thing because email providers are taking big steps to protect consumers. The biggest drawback is that those who are attempting to get around these precautions can often quickly find ways to trick the system, so the email providers are always having to catch up to fight fraud.

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Combining Text and Images to Increase E-Blast Deliverability

When I create a marketing email, I make a point of combining text and images.  One reason this should be a standard practice is to decrease your SPAM rating.

Email clients have become very intelligent over the past several years and have been trained to filter out messages containing particular words.  However, spammers stepped up to the challenge by omitting those words from the email and instead, embed them as an image.

Because spammers started relying on images rather than text, email clients increased the SPAM rating on emails containing a large percentage of images.  So the higher percentage of images you include in an e-blast, the greater chance it will be marked as SPAM and never read.

Additionally, relying on an image versus text can be risky because if the image does not show up correctly, or your audience is viewing as text only, they will not get your message and will likely unsubscribe.

The below image is a screen shot of an e-blast I received today that relied on images to provide the message:

As you can see, there is no message, only an apology and a frown face, which doesn’t do me  or any viewer any good.  Wait, I just received this message, why isn’t the image available and why is it referred to as a page? This makes me question their planning.  If this was a scheduled email marketing message, they should have tested prior to sending to ensure all links were working correctly.

Their biggest saving grace in such a situation is the message at the top that reads “This message contains graphics. If you do not see the graphics, click here to view.”  This allows the viewer to see the intended message, but should not be relied upon for the viewer to click the link to see the message.

To ensure your customers get the message you are intending for them to receive, make sure your e-blast is mostly text with minimal effective images added where necessary.  Viewers prefer images over text, but as far as email deliverability a primarily text message will get your e-blast in their inbox.

The New York Times: A Case of Accidental Spamming

On December 28, 2011, more than 8 million people received an email from the New York Times regarding a recent cancellation request for their newspaper delivery. The problem is, the majority of those people had not cancelled their subscription and many didn’t even have home delivery.

This could be considered SPAM, however it appeared to be actually sent by the New York Times, there were no harmful attachments or links to phishing sites, and it instructed the recipient to call an actual New York Times phone number if interested in receiving a discount using an actual New York Times discount code.

Any time an error like this occurs, it leaves a negative impression on the recipient. Even if the recipient has had nothing but incredible service, a foul-up like this can be confusing and conjure the question of if a company can make a mistake like this, what other mistakes are they making?

What’s important is how the situation is handled. Customers don’t need to be bogged down with details but it’s also important to not leave them confused and questioning the integrity of your company. If past experiences have taught us anything, it’s that the truth will always come out.

While the New York Times initially stated the email did not come from them, after further investigation, they realized it had been sent to a large number of recipients in error, when in actuality, it was meant to only go to a small number of recipients—those who had actually cancelled their delivery services.

So while 8 million people may have been confused for a couple hours, there was really no harm other than the confusion and the quick resolution prevented this from becoming a big ordeal. Commenters on one news site reporting this incident joked that they had been spammed and should start a support group, obviously taking the error very lightly.

Luckily for the New York Times, this error will probably end up barely causing a blip on the e-mail blunder radar, but not every company survives with recipients joking about the error.

Have you had any email blunders?  What happened?  How did you handle the situation?

Article: http://gawker.com/5871684/why-you-just-got-new-york-times-spam

The Importance of Testing Your Own Instructions

Today I received an e-blast instructing me to click on a link to go to the company’s website then to click a link on the website to complete some information. Not sure why they couldn’t just send me the direct link, but that’s fine, I’m savvy, I’ll navigate my way there. The problem was the link I was instructed to click on didn’t exist.

I browsed through the smattering of images and links on the site, making multiple attempts to find this page, but after so many clicks, I stopped and the following thoughts went through my head:

  • I’ve spent way too much time trying to find this link
  • If it was that important for me to go to this link, the sender would have made a much clearer path for me to follow
  • If it’s really that important for me to perform an action on this site, they will contact me again

Then I have to choose: do I reply and explain I can’t find the link or do I ignore it and hope they contact me again if it’s really that important?

These two questions are important for you to consider because if your customers choose the latter, you have failed in your marketing attempt and could lose your customers to someone who has enabled direct links to what your customers want.

Before ever sending any type of instructions to anyone, take the following steps to ensure success:

  1. Read through the complete steps to make sure they make sense
  2. Remove excess words to make the instructions as concise as possible
  3. Perform the steps you have written to ensure you haven’t left anything out. If you have, add it.
  4. Have someone else read the instructions to make sure they make sense. It is helpful to get someone from a different department who is unfamiliar with what you are instructing.
  5. Have that person perform the steps to ensure they can do so or if they have trouble following, they can pinpoint where the problem is
  6. Finalize the instructions, ensuring all questions have been covered, writing is simple and concise and the end-user can easily follow

Another project I worked on was writing the setup and rules for a series of backyard games my company manufactured. Because the products were designed and sourced by our product developer, I had no part in the design or parts included so my knowledge of each was minor, where the developer knew the products inside and out. This made it a wise choice for me, an outside source, to write the instructions.

I had photos of all the parts and the end product, so I started writing instructions based on how I thought it all went together. I reviewed and edited multiple times, then consulted with the designer. She helped me understand the importance of each step as well as the order of the steps.

For example, it was important to slide the sleeve of the volleyball net onto one pole section before fitting the 3 pieces of the poles together because a bolt would have prevented ease of sliding. Had I not known that, the end-user could have found out the hard way and already been frustrated with the product prior to even using it!

This peer review is incredibly helpful even for the most seasoned writer because it allows for an outside source, a regular person to serve from the point of view of a potential customer and let you know ahead of time whether or not your instructions are clear enough. In the end, a few extra steps can save you, your customers and customer service time spent trying to decipher otherwise unclear instruction.

What have been your experiences with instruction writing? Any horror stories of unclear writing or a catch that could have been a disaster?

10 Reasons Why This E-Blast Sucks (and how it could be improved!)

E-blasts can be effective ways to engage the interest of your customers or to gain new customers.  However, unless they are carefully planned out, they can be a disaster like the one I received today.

Here’s an image of the e-blast pieced together.  It was so long and rambling, I had to cut it into multiple pieces.  I circled the 10 offenses outlined below.

Awful E-Blast

Here are 10 things that ruined this e-blast for me:

  1. There was a misspelling in the subject.  That is my number one reason to instantly dismiss the legitimacy of an e-blast.Misspelling in Subject
  2. The logo is blurry.  Hopefully, an advertising piece such as this would be created by the marketing/promotions department and they should have quality versions of your company logo.Distorted logo
  3. Strange choice of words.  “We most likely handled…” This isn’t horrible, but it is awkward and could have been worded differently.  It also doesn’t make me feel valued if I was a customer last year—don’t they know who their own customers are?Strange word choice
  4. Broken image link, the most obnoxious offense in e-blasts.  Need I say more?Broken image link
  5. Unorganized rambling list of both cities and entire states as serviced locations.  A better way to have handled this would be to either omit it completely since there’s already a map illustrating general service locations or to list cleanly in alphabetical order, and choosing either cities or states.  Unorganized rambling list of both cities and entire states as serviced locations
  6. “Just to name a few…” Last time I checked, 37 was not just a few.  I get what they’re trying to say here, but in this case, I’d even accept 10 as a few.  But 37 as “just a few” is obnoxious.Just to name a few
  7. Inconsistent capitalization combined with centering and odd sentence splitting makes it confusing to read this simple sentence.  This is a sentence, so don’t write it in heading format.Inconsistent capitalization
  8. Extra spacing between lines.  There is a random extra space in this paragraph that is highly distracting and unnecessary.Extra space
  9. Unnecessary abbreviation.  With all the space the rest of the email took up, they choose to abbreviate the contact information.  It took me a minute to try to figure out what w or e stood for.  Either spell out phone, fax, email and website or omit it so I don’t get distracted trying to figure out what they’re saying.Abbreviation
  10. Incoherent sentence.  It looks like maybe the sentence had previously read “Click here to unsubscribe, or reply…” but that’s not what it says now and it doesn’t make much sense.  Kudos for offering an unsubscribe option (as required by CAN-SPAM law) but strike for the odd way of wording it.Unsubscribe

Here’s how I re-did the e-blast to show an example of a clearer, cleaner message.  Click to view the fully functioning html version.

Better-E-Blast

What are things that annoy you about bad e-blasts?

Red Robin E-blast: Marketing Genius or Disaster?

I received an e-blast from Red Robin today with the subject reading “Are you Jim? A FREE burger awaits!”  I was a bit excited because I recently signed up for their royalty card and had thought maybe they confused me with someone else—nevertheless, they think I get a free burger so maybe I’d take them up on the offer!

Then I open the email and see this:

Red Robin e-blast - Free burger if your name happens to be Jim, James or Jimbo

Red Robin e-blast - Free burger if your name happens to be Jim, James or Jimbo...

I did forward it on to my father-in-law, Jim, but then I started to think about how it made me feel.  Granted I’m a vegetarian (yeah for RR Boca burgers) and I’ve sworn off Red Robin for receiving poor service the last few times I’ve been there, but I’m also human and a fan of free stuff and equal opportunity.

I went to Red Robin’s Facebook page to see what others thought about the promotion:

  • There were a lot of excited people, as I was in the beginning, sharing this with all the Jims they knew.
  • There were confused folks who didn’t get it and thought Red Robin thought their name was Jim
  • There were some who were disappointed they couldn’t get the deal and hopeful for a Carol or Melissa free burger day.
  • There were all the happy Jims (and derivatives of the name)  announcing their excitement for the free burger.
  • There are those who think this is a fun and cute promotion.
  • There were the naysayers, not thrilled about being fooled into thinking they got a free burger.
  • There were the extremists exclaiming how sexist this awful campaign is because it’s only valid for people named Jim and even states to forward on to “him,” and many even suggesting boycotting Red Robin.
  • There were the regulators telling the extremists to calm down and just be happy for the Jims.

There’s a couple sides to this reputationally-risky promotion: is it good to get any publicity even if it is negative or do the risks of negative lashing out by the public outweigh any positive attention this campaign could get?

The Red Robin representative on Facebook has been commenting like crazy, making sure the rules are clear, responding quickly to positive comments and laying low in response to the negative comments.  Is it wise to focus on the positive and avoid drawing attention to the negative?

It will be interesting to see the reactions of Red Robin executives over the next week to see if there is an apology or if they stand behind their marketing campaign.

What do you think about this e-blast: genius or disaster?

Using html to Create a Linked Image Map

Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes, there’s just something about coding in straight html that is so refreshing to me. Granted, with all the software out now, many html-illiterate folks can create amazing web masterpieces. I, however, was always someone who took pride in being able to write my own code from scratch and I still do on a fairly regular basis.

There are a couple of reasons why I stick to coding my own html:

  1. It’s reliable. The more you mess with a WYSIWYG html editor, the more the code gets scrambled and the higher your potential is for having unexpected results. It’s kind of like purifying a bottle of dirty water with bleach—it may be “clean” but it’s still full of dirt particles.
  2. It’s good to know what’s behind the scenes. If you notice a glitch on your website, how can you fix it? This is especially if you have a WYSIWYG editor or CSS that wants to override the html. If you are able to look at the raw coding and know where to look, you can fix the problem a lot easier.
  3. You control the coding. Sure, I don’t always put values in “quotations” as I should and I don’t always close out my coding in table cells, but when I code, I put only what I need in there so I know exactly what I will end up with. It’s like using a recipe that I created to suit my particular taste.

This week, I decided to go back to my late 90s html roots and create an image map. You’ve seen these before: it’s one image, but if you click in different areas, you will go to different links rather than having the entire image linked to only one site.

So take a second to see what I created in this link, then I will tell you how you can do it yourself.

NOTE: A great free html editor is the Coffee Cup Free HTML Editor.  I use this regularly so I can quickly view my coding without having to save a Notepad file as html and go back and forth between txt and html files.

First, I created my banner in Photoshop creating two distinct categories at the bottom: Leather and Composite. Rather than lead the viewer to a general page, I wanted to lead them directly to the page for each category.

Then, I wanted to find the coordinates. Now depending on which type of image map you plan on using, you will need a different set of coordinates. And don’t worry, the coordinates are probably the easiest part of this process—just open the image in Paint, mouse over the points and the coordinates will show up on the bottom right of the screen. So here’s the image map types and the coordinates needed:

  • RECT: This is a rectangle shape and all you need is the top right and bottom left coordinates, in that order. It’s what I used for my image map and is simple if you need a rectangular area.
  • CIRCLE: This type creates a circle around one coordinate point and the distance if the link created is indicated by the radius of the circle .
  • POLYGON: This is a very specific map that allows you to select several points around an area. Just make sure the points are selected in order (i.e. clockwise or counter-clockwise) to ensure a proper image map area.

So decide what type of image map you want to create, locate the coordinates, then come up with a name for the map. NOTE: If you are linking to multiple parts of the image, be sure to collect all coordinates needed, keep them separate for each location and keep them in order. I named mine “cover” in reference to the cover materials of the balls. Name it whatever you want.

NOTE: A great free html editor to test your coding in is Coffee Cup Free HTML Editor.  The free version only allows you to code and preview, but it is much faster than coding in Notepad, saving in html and viewing it that way.

Now you are ready to code! Here’s how I did mine:

<img src=”http://www.sallyu.com/VB-Banner.jpg&#8221; usemap=”#cover” border=”0″>
<map name=”cover”>
<area shape=”rect” coords=”268,199,39,235″ href=”http://goo.gl/bZiu9″></area&gt;
<area shape=”rect” coords=”621,197,331,235″ href=”http://goo.gl/u8kda”></area&gt;
</map>

  1. The first line is the image link: <img src=”http://www.sallyu.com/VB-Banner.jpg&#8221; usemap=”#cover” border=”0″>
  2. Second line is the map name: <map name=”cover”>
  3. Third line is the first link: <area shape=”rect” coords=”268,199,39,235″ href=”http://goo.gl/bZiu9″></area&gt;
  4. Fourth line is the second link: <area shape=”rect” coords=”621,197,331,235″ href=”http://goo.gl/u8kda”></area&gt;
  5. The fifth line is the map closure: </map>

Image maps aren’t limited to just page links, try them for page anchors and email addresses too! You can include a Facebook “like” or Twitter “follow” or whatever you can link to! This is a fun way to create a more interactive image without using tables or slicing to create the links.

As always, be sure to test your image map in different browsers and have friends or coworkers test it as well to ensure it works correctly. The purpose of straight coding html is to control maximum output so the last thing you want to do is take the time to create an image map that does not work.

Enjoy and happy coding!